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EP 25 Madeline Cronk: From Teacher to PD Trainer

Madeline is a former middle school and high school science teacher who knows a thing or two about teacher burnout. After experiencing some severe burnout early in her career, Madeline began looking for career paths outside of the classroom. Today, she works as a PD trainer for a curriculum development company and loves it. Listen as she shares everything from the steps she took to leave her teaching role to how her new job allows her to relate to and help other struggling teachers. This is another great success story filled with insight that many struggling teachers can resonate with.

Recap and BIG Ideas:

✨ It’s possible to love certain aspects of being a teacher and still feel the effects of burnout. At the end of the day, it’s okay to put yourself and your well-being first

✨ Despite how it may feel at times, there is no need to feel guilted or bullied into staying in a career that makes you unhappy

✨ There are resources out there that can give you the support and build the confidence you need to make the transition to another career. 

The application process can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s imperative to hold your confidence and keep pushing through until you find that right job. 

✨ If you are working in a toxic school environment, there are roles out there that provide the respect and autonomy you are craving

✨ There are steps you can take to be proactive in your career transition, like building your experience while you’re in the classroom

✨ It’s never a bad idea to seek help with your resume. We often overlook some of our biggest and most valuable accomplishments due to imposter syndrome

✨Instead of fearing the unknown, consider the possibilities that lie in new opportunities.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Daphne: Hey, Madeline, thank you so much for joining us today.

Madeline: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Daphne: Let’s start with a little introduction. You’re a former teacher, and you initially left the classroom for a role as a curriculum writer, correct?

Madeline: I work at a curriculum company doing more implementation and professional development. Before that, I taught middle and high school science and computer science for seven years. I loved it for many years, but then I started experiencing a lot of work-related stress and wanted a change. So, I left the classroom fairly recently, but I’m loving my new role.

Daphne: Did You feel that sense of burnout just this last year during COVID, or were you considering change years before that? 

Madeline: Before COVID. I had been experiencing burnout for a couple of years and was overdoing it a little bit. I was taught four to five preps, coached, and joined every committee. I worked summers, evenings, and weekends too. I started feeling burnout and thought I could self-correct. I was seeing a therapist and trying to be proactive about self-care to help manage the burnout. 

Once COVID hit, it just exacerbated my burnout to the point where I didn’t have control over my work situation anymore. I couldn’t manage the variables. Once I lost that control, I felt like I didn’t have a choice. In a way, the burnout was already there, just brewing beneath the surface. COVID just made it that much worse. 

Oftentimes teachers feel backed into a corner to stay in the classroom despite struggles with burnout. 

Daphne: Do you mind sharing what those burnout symptoms felt like for you?

Madeline: I’m happy to share because you sharing your story with burnout made me feel like I wasn’t crazy or a bad person and that teachers do experience these things. For me, there were nights where I was hardly sleeping at all, getting maybe an hour of sleep. I was just lying awake at night thinking about everything work-related. I used to cry on the way to work because I just dreaded going to school so much, and taking sick days just felt like even more work, so I never used them. When I did, I was asked why I was using them, so I just stopped. 

It sounds horrible, but I remember hoping that I would get in a car accident, so I wouldn’t have to go to work that day. At that point, I knew it wasn’t a healthy way to feel about my work situation. Tragically, so many teachers feel like this, and they don’t have people to talk to. I felt this way for years, despite loving my job because, at the same time, it was stressing me out so much that I couldn’t enjoy the other parts of my life. My work was just consuming my entire life.

Daphne: Some people have stayed in a job that makes them unhappy in so many industries, but I think teaching backs you into a corner where you feel guilty if you want a change. In other industries, they just give their two-week notice and wrap things up. They know that someone else will fill that role. Teachers don’t feel like they should be putting themselves first, or acknowledging what they are experiencing isn’t healthy. It’s hard for them to admit that it’s okay to walk away from it. The weight and the responsibility of owning those emotions are too much for people. 

A lot of times, therapists are the ones who start unpacking those feelings, especially in teachers who are on the brink of wanting to leave. They get at those feelings of why they don’t think they can leave. 

Madeline: I think that’s such a complex part of teaching because some of it’s coming from ourselves. A lot of us went into it thinking this would be our forever career. My mom is a teacher, and it’s what I wanted to do for a long time. I didn’t think that I would ever leave the classroom. So, it almost felt like I was failing myself or not keeping a promise to myself by leaving.

I think that within education, there are systems in place to keep teachers in the classroom, even when they want to leave or should leave. That can be a force that acts on teachers, making them feel like if they leave they’re being irresponsible or letting down the community. There’s a lot of pressure to stay in the classroom and stick it out because the kids, school, and community need you. There’s a lot of guilt associated with leaving. 

It can be hard for teachers to leave the classroom due to various emotional barriers, like guilt. 

I think there are so many different factors and it’s different for everyone. In my situation, I felt like I needed to stay for myself and the school. It took a couple of years being really unhappy and stressed out before prioritizing my happiness and my health over not wanting to feel guilty about abandoning the students. I left in October of this past school year because I knew that there was a chance that that guilty feeling would only get worse. 

People did say that I was abandoning the students and didn’t care about them. I knew that couldn’t be further from the truth. I loved my students, and I’m still in contact with many of them. It was really hard for me to make that decision, but ultimately, my students supported me because they could see that I was stressed out and that I wasn’t myself. They understood when I explained to them that I had some personal things going on that were not a reflection of them. They knew I wanted to continue to support them how I could. It was really difficult for me to have that conversation with them, but it was important for me to express how much I cared about them despite my decision.

There’s just so many different factors. It’s not like other professions. Teachers can feel stuck for so many reasons. 

Daphne: It breaks my heart. Your story is similar to mine and so many other people. I’m empathetic by nature, and I 100% understand the concerns of someone leaving mid-year of the weight that puts on other team members. I don’t feel like you’re the type of person that would take that lightly. I’ve had people who send me messages that basically say they left on leave because they were so emotionally unwell and sometimes even suicidal. Their co-workers were uncompassionate to the point of almost bullying. They thought the person was being overdramatic or just trying to get out of the hard work. I’m sure that’s coming from a place of hurt and stress. 

Again, I want to be empathetic here. If you’re happy in a career, stay in that career. If you know people who are unhappy in their career, root them on to find something that makes them happy. If they are mentally or physically struggling because of the career, you can’t expect them to break themselves to make your life easier. Situations like that suck. But sometimes it needs to happen, especially this year. 

In reality, it’s been happening for years. People are constantly told they’re a good teacher and can’t leave. They’re reminded of the weight others will have to pick up or how much the students will suffer. But if you are seeing a therapist, and they’re telling you this job isn’t good for your mental health, you should have the confidence to acknowledge how difficult the decision is and take the right step for you.  You should feel supported in your choice.

Madeline recalls the challenge of prioritizing herself and self-care, sharing what the final straw was for her. 

So, I want to congratulate you on taking that step. Now, what helped you realize you had to make that change in your career almost immediately?

Madeline: When COVID hit in the spring of last year, I was already thinking about transitioning. I was working a lot as an independent freelancer with PD and product. I really enjoyed it, feeling like if a job came along, I would take it. 

In the fall, when we came back to school and COVID was still in our lives and in our schools, I was concerned about how it was being handled in schools and health concerns for myself, my colleagues and my students and their families At that point, I didn’t feel supported or listened to. I had serious concerns that weren’t addressed. I felt like I was sacrificing my health, safety, and happiness for a job where no one was even listening to me. That’s when a switch flipped in my head and I wanted out. 

I think a big part of it was that I didn’t feel supported in return. I felt like I had been giving so much for so many years, and then when I needed support and needed to be heard, that wasn’t reciprocated. At that point I knew that I wasn’t going to make it through the school year. So, in the fall, I decided that I wasn’t going to wait for something to fall into my lap. Instead, I was going to be really proactive about getting a job outside of the classroom. 

The Teacher Career Coach Instagram helped Madeline gain the confidence she needed to make the move and push through the ups and downs of the application process.  

I wanted to stay in education, but I wanted out so badly that I was willing to explore other fields as well. I had found some of your resources through social media, particularly your Teacher Career Coach page on Instagram. One of my teacher friends had liked one of your posts and when I stumbled upon the post on my explore page it was almost serendipitous that I found it when I needed it most. 

There were little things within your resources that helped me build confidence, like the affirmations. I was reading the affirmations around August and I started to believe them and believe that I could do this. I developed confidence and started applying for jobs. Now, there were a few jobs that I really wanted and I was certainly qualified for, but I got rejected without even being asked to interview. 

While that was really disappointing, I kept applying. I kept networking. I kept inquiring with my friends who worked at educational companies. Eventually, the right job came along. When I interviewed for it, it just clicked and I knew it was a good fit. I wanted the job so desperately and they happened to make me an offer.

The application process is filled with ups and downs, but it’s imperative to hold your confidence and keep pushing through. 

Daphne: I love the fact that there is a happy ending, but I want to go back to that struggle of even needing to read affirmations and not feeling confident. That’s something that so many teachers, so many women in general,  struggle with. They just feel low career self-esteem. I mean, I struggled with this and I’ve continuously worked on being more confident, learning, and growing. 

When I was first shifting my perception of what I was capable of doing outside of the classroom, I couldn’t see myself in a lot of the roles I didn’t feel qualified for, despite having a master’s degree or experience in education. I just had to keep telling myself that I was qualified. You have to own that you are qualified because no one else is going to believe it if you don’t believe it. Remember, in an interview you’re basically selling yourself so you need to believe it.  

The same goes for when you’re putting out applications. You’re putting yourself out there and it feels terrible when you get those rejection letters, but it’s a process everyone goes through. Even if your resume is perfect, there’s a chance that you’re still not going to get an interview. 

There’s so much self doubt during that process and it can be the hardest part of the whole thing. If you were anything like me, you might have felt at times like it was never going to happen for you and you’d made a huge mistake. I remember feeling so depressed over it. When you were in the process of applying, did you ever want to give up on yourself? 

Madeline: Definitely. Receiving those rejection letters impacted my self-esteem for sure. The days when I would receive one of those letters, I started to believe all of the negative things people believe about teachers. I started to believe them about myself a little bit. I thought, maybe I was just lazy or not as qualified for these jobs as I thought I was because I wasn’t even getting an interview. I think that years of going through tough situations in education did impact my self-esteem and career-specific self-esteem. I had to change my mindset and choose not to believe those things about myself. 

I was always a great student. I’ve always been a hard worker. Yet, I started to lose that sense of myself when I was experiencing burnout. And so, yes, I definitely felt down and rejected and I lost self-esteem when I got those rejection emails, but I wanted out so badly, that it didn’t keep me from continuing the journey. 

I kept applying, even for new roles I was more qualified for and interested in with companies I had previously been rejected by. I felt inspired enough to keep applying and I think that it was a change in mindset that happened. I started to believe I am smart and hardworking. I realized I do have experience that somebody will find valuable and I just needed to wait for the right fit. 

Daphne: Our perception of time during that period is buck wild. It’s practically non-existent. I was already extremely depressed at the very end of the school year when I left. I was aggressively applying for two or three months and once I started getting rejection letters, and interviews didn’t go the way that I wanted, I felt like it was never going to happen.

 One day I finally hit rock bottom, getting four rejection emails in one day. I was just so upset and honestly a little scared. I was even afraid my boyfriend would leave me because I was such a mess. I remember literally going to bed at noon to avoid facing him like that. 

Two weeks later, I finally got the job of my dreams and everything changed. Before you get that offer though, you’re in a heightened state of stress. You experience major fight or flight symptoms and your body’s just freaking out over everything. 

Since I know what it feels like, it’s so hard for us to tell someone to be patient and trust the process. To just keep going and move beyond the rejections. Yes, you might need to redo your resume or you might be applying to the wrong positions. Maybe there is a lot of competition, so you might want to focus more on networking. Even though it’s all great and valid advice, if your brain is going buck wild, it’s hard to rationalize. Unfortunately, it’s all part of the journey. 

Once you find that right job for you, it will all be worth it. 

Madeline: Yeah, there are so many emotions attached to leaving teaching, putting yourself out there, and taking that risk. I also had such an emotional response to the rejection letters. I had an emotional response to my first offer letter too. It’s really a roller coaster of emotions. 

However, that day I got that official offer letter for my job, I finally felt like I was myself again. My fiance told me that my face looked different. Years of stress and anxiety had just left my face. My body felt different like I was no longer holding all of this stress in my chest and my shoulders. I just felt like a different person. 

So, yes, it is a rollercoaster of emotions, but I will say that I’m so glad that I didn’t give up. Persevering led me to the position that I’m in now and it’s such a better fit for me than any of the positions I was rejected for. I think that if you do get an interview, and it goes really well, that’s a sign that that’s potentially a great fit for you. That’s what happened to me.

Madeline shares how her new role gives her the respect and autonomy she was craving in her last years of teaching. 

Daphne: Yeah, let’s dive into that a little bit more. So what is your new position?

Madeline: I work in an implementation and professional development role for an education company. 

Daphne: What exactly do you do in that role? 

Madeline: I work remotely and right now a lot of the focus is on resources for distance learning. More specifically, I’m helping with product development. I work on a team of former teachers and it’s a very collaborative environment. Every day I’m really just working with my team on developing and modifying those resources. I also help teachers use those resources in the classroom.

Daphne: Do you feel like there’s the same type of daily structure? What do your average hours look like?

Madeline: So there is more flexibility built in my schedule than when I was in the classroom. Since it’s remote work, there’s some inherent flexibility in that I was able to choose my work schedule. I work East Coast hours and since I was teaching high school, I was accustomed to waking up super early in the morning and then finishing earlier in the day. I asked if I could keep that same sort of schedule, and they were supportive of that. 

That being said, if I have an appointment or something, I’m able to go to that appointment. It was a big shift for me to not have to go through a bunch of hoops or make sub plans just to go to the dentist. 

It’s so freeing to be able to have more flexible hours. Right now I’m working a lot of hours, so sometimes I do have to work in the evenings or on the weekends due to certain deadlines we have to meet as a team. I think the difference is that I’m really enjoying my work, so when I work a few hours in the evening, it doesn’t bring up feelings of stress and anxiety that I used to get when I was working in the evenings or on the weekends as a teacher. There’s just a lot more flexibility. Everyone on my team sort of has their own schedule and we just make it work with each other. You know, we’re all adults, and we’re all professionals and we respect each other’s preferences. 

Daphne: I feel like I’m hearing you say that mutual respect and autonomy may have been missing from your last work environment. That’s something that I think happens a lot with teachers who have toxic administration. I don’t necessarily hear you saying that, but I’ll say that was the case at the last school I was at before leaving. 

There were teachers I knew who if they took a sick day, they would get text messages almost scolding them and asking them what was going on. They needed to submit sick days through the principal, who was very intimidating. For some people, that type of micromanaging weighs on them to the point where it breaks them. 

It feels so nice to have the freedom where somebody gives you a task to do and trusts you’re going to do it. It’s nice when there’s no pressure of someone watching you every step of the way. It’s nice to have that leniency and freedom in your ability to live your life and get your work done. 

Madeline: Exactly, and I did experience a little bit of that toxicity when I was in the classroom. I had a very supportive administrator for years and we had a great relationship, but then we had a change in administration. With the new administrator, came a slightly different perspective on sick leave and sub days and things like that. 

I remember at one point in the fall, I had taken a sick day from my asthma acting up with all of the smoke from the forest friends. My doctor advised me to stay home because there were extremely unhealthy conditions for anybody to be outside. I remember receiving calls and emails inquiring why I had taken the sick day. It made me feel like I was in trouble, which made me feel like I couldn’t take the time off that I needed, even when my doctors were telling me to.

It made me sad to think so many teachers feel that pressure and that they can’t make those own decisions about their health. I know so many people that go to work sick, because they either feel the pressure not to take a sick day, or it’s too much work to create sub plans. Everyone I know that’s in education has experienced that in some way. 

I don’t know how we fix that. It doesn’t seem to affect certain people as much as others, but personally, I didn’t like feeling guilty or afraid of getting in trouble if I was sick. We really shouldn’t be going to work when we’re sick, especially when we’re in a pandemic. So, that was really hard for me. 

Madeline knew her new position was the right career move for her. 

Daphne: When you started working in your new career, how long did it take until it really clicked with you that you had found something that was a great fit?

Madeline: I was just elated on my first day. I was going through remote training with HR and started to get really excited. It just felt right. Then there was a point about two months in where I met with my manager to talk about my performance thus far and where I saw myself going. It just clicked and I felt like I could really thrive in this company because they care about my skills and growth. 

I just knew that I made the right decision. I don’t regret leaving the classroom. I mean, I do miss the students for sure. But other than that, I feel like it’s just a much better fit for me. I’m really, really happy.

Building up your experience while you’re still in the classroom is always a good idea if you want to be proactive in your career transition. 

Daphne: What do you think qualified you for that role? There very well may have been other teachers who were up against you for the exact same type of position. Did you make any tweaks to your resume or think your experience training other teachers when working in the school increased your qualifications? 

Madeline: I had been working as an independent freelancer doing professional development for a couple of years, and I loved doing that. I connected with so many other teachers and facilitators during that time. That gave me some confidence in my skills outside of the classroom when it came to working in the realm of professional development. 

I’m really glad that I pursued those opportunities while I was still in the classroom because I think it gave me that extra sparkle that I needed on my resume. I had a broader experience with professional development in various environments than I would have had otherwise. Since I’m younger and didn’t have a resume with 30 years of experience, it was helpful that I could be clear on my resume with all that I had done. 

It’s never a bad idea to seek help with your resume. We often overlook some of our biggest and most valuable accomplishments. 

I also had a friend help me with my resume. She helped me realize that I was missing so much on my resume.  I didn’t think about adding things like leading committees and being on the board of the PTA because I didn’t think that companies would find them important. So, I just needed that extra nudge to really look at all of the things that I had done in my career, and be really clear and intentional about showing how I have developed a variety of skills. 

So I guess my answer is twofold. Part of it was putting in a lot of the work while I was still in the classroom. Theother part was asking people to look at my resume and cover letter and make sure that everything that I had done was actually represented on my application. I think those two things really helped me stand out among other applicants.

Daphne: I love that you asked a friend to give you advice regarding the accomplishments that you had in the classroom. Since so many people struggle with acknowledging their achievements on their resumes, one thing that I teach on the Teacher Career Coach course, is imposter syndrome. We have a really hard time acknowledging what our very real accomplishments are and a resume is a place where imposter syndrome  can really shine until you acknowledge your successes. Until then, you are just closing the door on potential opportunities. 

So, I always talk about thinking outside the classroom. In the course, I walk through each step in greater detail, but when I say think outside the classroom, I mean rethinking and relabeling your responsibilities and actions. It’s beyond the pedagogy of teaching a specific subject to a specific grade. You’ve managed groups, coordinated events, managed projects, collected and analyzed data. Think about the things that happen outside the walls of the classroom because those can be some of the most transferable.

Now, you always want to make sure that your resume matches up to whatever roles you’re applying for. So for you at this professional development curriculum company, you do want to focus on pedagogy and talk about how you’re a specialist and subject matter expert in different areas. You also want to talk about your confidence in training others. 

Teachers tend to get so nervous in these situations that I often tell them to ask others to say nice things about them and tell them what they’ve accomplished, and then go write it down in a journal and reflect on it. It helps break through that imposter syndrome. And just to clarify, I still go through moments of imposter syndrome, but now I know to just own it and work through it. 

Madeline: I totally get that. I needed this mentorship so that somebody could point out the things that I had done. Once they did I was like, Oh, yeah, I did do those things. 

It can be intimidating applying for jobs outside of education when that’s all you have experience with. Luckily, there are amazing resources that can help. 

Daphne: In the same respect, I know some people struggle when it comes to resume writing because they hold onto their story too dearly.  If you hold on to those old stories and try to fit everything into the resume, even things irrelevant to the specific position, it might not ever be read. 

Madeline: Right. I do think that teachers transitioning out of the classroom need specific coaching on how to make our resumes work outside of education. I had applied for positions in other districts and schools, so I know what that interview process looks like and what they’re looking to see on my resume and cover letter. It’s a little bit more daunting and ambiguous to just apply at a company and an organization in a field that you’re less familiar with. 

I think it’s important to seek out those resources, even if you have to pay for them, and use them. There’s no shame in getting help with that. I remember my friend paid a professional to help her craft her resume that landed her her first big-time job. Yet, as teachers, maybe we don’t know that we should be doing that, or we’re not sure how to even pursue that. That’s why I think that your work in your course is so important for teachers, because it offers that extra step to help you get an interview. Nobody should be expected to just know how to do that.

Daphne: I really appreciate you saying that. Honestly, it means the world to me. A lot of people struggle to invest themselves because they don’t believe that the end result is possible for them. I also think many teachers try to take a DIY approach of piecing it together based on what is on the internet. However, this is something that is a very complicated step by step process that’s unique to every job you’ll apply to. So, it’s important that you get a lot of support. Oftentimes free support can offer misinformation or miss some key parts. 

Now, doing it all yourself can absolutely lead to success. I don’t ever want anyone to think that they can’t do it entirely on their own. However, having a lot of support saves you so much time and helps you avoid making the mistakes that thousands of people have made before you. I think that’s the most valuable part of investing in yourself. I mean, I just invested $2,000 in a business course because I finally believe that it won’t be a waste of money because I can ultimately have the results I want from investing in this resource. I didn’t have that mindset four years ago. 

Madeline: When I decided I wanted to leave the classroom last fall, I knew that I couldn’t wait for something to just fall into my lap. I think that gave me a little push to be more proactive, spend more time crafting my resume, and just be intentional about the jobs I was applying for. So I wasn’t just looking at jobs; I was actively applying for them and networking. I think those things helped lead me to the position I’m in now.

Daphne: I hate to wrap it up because I feel like I could talk to you forever. This has been such a great conversation. I imagine so many people can relate to your story because it’s far too common. 

Instead of fearing the unknown, consider the possibilities that lie in new opportunities. 

So, is there any last bit of advice that you’d want to give to any teachers, especially those who might be struggling right now? 

Madeline: My advice is this: don’t be afraid of the unknown. Don’t be afraid of the world outside of education. I’d heard for years that the corporate world is so cutthroat, and if you leave for the private sector, you have no job security, and you don’t have support. I’ve found it to be the opposite. I feel very supported, and, truthfully, I didn’t always feel like I had job security when I was in the classroom. 

Don’t be scared of opportunities and not be afraid of the unknown. Instead, realize that leaving teaching might be the best thing for you, and that’s okay. There could be a place for you somewhere else where you can thrive and be happy and still make a difference. You don’t have to do it at the expense of your health. At the end of the day, don’t be afraid of the possibilities.

Daphne: I love that. Thank you so much, Madeline. It’s been a great conversation. I really appreciate it.

Madeline: Thank you for having me.

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